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New Year, New You: Go Back to College and Thrive as an Online Student

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Today’s college students are no longer teens and twentysomethings with little concern for anything besides parties. More and more “adults” with full-time jobs and families are going back to school, both to improve their employment opportunities and update their credentials.

If your New Year’s resolution was to go back to school, an online program might be the perfect choice. Here are seven tips to help you thrive as an online student:

1. Find the right online college program for your needs.

From prestigious universities to local community colleges, more and more schools are offering (or even requiring) at least some online classes. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when deciding that it’s time to go back to school. The news media is full of horror stories about students who were ripped off by diploma mills and people who didn’t receive the training that they were promised by admissions representatives, and paying for college can take a big bite out of your bank account.

Make sure that you find the right online college for your needs—it must not only offer the program that you intend to study, it must be accredited. Keep in mind that many employers are still a bit wary of degrees that were earned online. Attending a respected online college that is regionally accredited may help.

2. Brush up on your computer skills.

Many older adults who lost their jobs have found that getting hired again is difficult because they aren’t up to date on technology. If you fall into that category, being a successful online student depends on much more than your ability to read textbooks and take exams. You’ll be expected to find your way around the online platform, create and attach files to emails, research things, and know how to perform a wide variety of other basic computer skills. Mashable also reports that technology plays an important role in maintaining and improving emotional well-being in older adults!

3. Be realistic when choosing your class schedule.

Don’t mistakenly assume that online classes are easier or require less time because you won’t have to drive to campus. Most likely, there aren’t enough hours in the day to enroll in six online classes per semester and work full time while raising a family. Start out by taking one or two classes, see how you’re able to handle things, and go from there.

4. Resist the urge to procrastinate.

It happens to the best of us every now and then—waiting until the last minute, that is. In many cases, your assignments or requirements will be due by a specific day, usually toward the end of the week. Even though you chose online classes because their schedule is more flexible than traditional classes, your success hinges on your own shoulders. US News recommends that you plan ahead, log into your online classes at least once per day to check for updates, and let the professors know if you’re struggling or something has come up.

5. Find the perfect study spot.

People who work from home often report that friends and family assume they’re not busy just because they don’t have to travel to the office. Don’t allow the same to happen to you. Set aside a particular spot for doing your class work, homework and tests. Sitting on the couch with your laptop might sound comfy, but how much studying will you really get done if your spouse or kids are watching TV in the same room?

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

It’s true in traditional classes and it’s true in this case, too. If you aren’t sure about something and can’t find the answer on your own, ask. Post a message on the class message boards or email your instructor.

7. Interact with your professors and classmates.

It’s okay to email your classmates, too, or at least correspond with them on the class message boards and workrooms. You might even want to create a virtual study group. You won’t have the same social benefits as college students who travel to campus, but it’s still possible to have relationships with others.

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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